Does Teen Cell Phone Addiction Treatment Help?

September 9, 2020

It is not uncommon in today’s technology-heavy environment to see pretty much everyone older than five wandering around with a cell phone in their hand. One need only look around a restaurant, a corner store, or school hallways to see the depth to which cellular technology has integrated itself into today’s teenagers’ lives. Cell phones have made interaction with friends and family easier, opened up the world to instant news coverage, and removed the need for a paper atlas in your car or recipe book in your kitchen.

It is interesting to think that the first cellular phone was created in 1973 by Motorola. That version of “outside the home” communication weighted just under four and a half pounds. At that time, there were no personal computers, no internet, and smartphones were a thing of the imagination. It would take a decade for cellular technology to reach consumers’ hands, and the cost (for 1983) would be a staggering $3995 (About $10,134 in today’s market). Today we have about a dozen cellular service providers, equally as many phone options (per provider), and teens seemingly cannot leave home without a handheld link to the internet. While cellular phones are undoubtedly convenient, parents often wonder at what point their teen’s reliance on and consistent use of cell phones and the internet turn into an addiction.

Today’s teens have a challenging and complex relationship with technology. At school, many are expected to use technology both within the classroom and at home to complete and submit homework assignments. Also, handheld devices are used to manage their social lives by using social media platforms and various apps. They also use cellular technology to help manage schedules and appointments. Today’s teens face intense levels of pressure as compared to even a decade ago. Sometimes, teen phone use is related to recreational activities designed to help reduce stress, but phones are often used to keep up with family, friends, and loved ones as well. Given the important role technology plays in their lives, how do parents ensure their use does not get “out of control?” And if it does, what is like cell phone addiction treatment?

Cell Phone Addiction as A Diagnosis

Currently, there isn’t a recognized “smartphone addiction” or “cellular phone addiction” diagnosis. However, it is natural for parents to wonder if their teen’s attachment to their cell phone qualifies as addictive behavior. Despite the lack of an official diagnosis, research has shown there are a few common adolescent personality traits that are commonly associated with internet or technology addictions, both of which are closely related to cellular phone addiction. These traits include low self-esteem, low cooperation, altered reward dependence (where a teen becomes dependent on rewards associated with technology instead of natural rewards such as hobbies), and high harm avoidance (when teens become worrisome, fearful, and shy).

Teen Cell Phone Addiction Statistics

Research shows parents have a good reason to worry. The results of a 2016 Common Sense Media Report found that over fifty percent of teens “feel addicted” to mobile devices. From the same survey, fifty-nine percent of parents reported they believed their kids were addicted to their devices. Two other rather shocking numbers center around responding to messages and the frequency with which teens check their phones. The 2015 survey showed that seventy-two percent of teens felt compelled to respond to texts, social media messages, and other notifications immediately, and seventy-eight percent of teens check their devices at least hourly at a minimum. A 2018 report from Pew Research indicated that teenage girls (fifty percent or more) are “near-constant” internet users compared to about thirty-nine percent of boys. This report also showed that more than ninety-five percent of teens have a smartphone.

Many teens use their cell phones for a variety of reasons, both personal and academic. Therefore, it might be more useful to focus less on counting the minutes of use and more on how the phone is being used when discussing cellular phone addiction.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Cell Phone Addiction

The medical community has suggested using the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) for diagnosing compulsive gambling and substance abuse as a starting point for assessing problematic cellular phone use. Again, to date, problematic cellular phone use is not defined as an addiction, and therefore it does not have specific diagnostic criteria. However, problematic use of cellular devices can still be evaluated as a behavioral disorder and treated through treatment programs for behavioral challenges at Hillcrest in Los Angeles, California.

If the model of problem gambling and substance abuse disorders serves as a guideline, potential symptoms to look for in a teen with a cellular phone addiction may include a host of symptoms frequently found in other addictive disorders. For example, your teen’s use of their cell phone may become so excessive that it causes conflicts with the family or withdrawal from the family. You might begin to notice your teen is struggling in school or with emotional and cognitive functioning. Also, your teen might start to exhibit classic symptoms of addiction, such as continued use despite adverse effects, changes in sleep patterns, increased anxiety or irritability when they cannot use their phone, and an increase in their phone use to achieve satisfaction and avoid feelings of sadness.

Admittedly, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between regular daily use and what might be considered problematic use. If this is the case, ask yourself some of the following questions. Does your teen become angry, anxious, or even violent if their phone is taken away from them? Does your teen skip or avoid social and family events to use their phone instead? Is your teen’s personal care, academics, friendships, and family relationships negatively affected by their cell phone use? Has your teen experienced any other significant changes in eating habits, sleep, or mood that cannot otherwise be explained?

Once you have considered the answers to these questions, it might be time to consider talking to the professionals at Hillcrest about opportunities we can provide to help your teen with cell phone addiction treatment.

The Effects of Teen Cellular Phone Addiction

Cellular phone addiction is very closely related to other impulse control addictions. Consequently, teens who may be addicted to their cell phones often experience similar effects. The parts of the brain that regulate emotions, decision-making, and impulse control tend to change with impulse control related addictions. There is also an increased likelihood that your teen may begin to consume alcohol or use tobacco products and experience a change in their dietary habits. Other effects of teen cellular phone addiction include something referred to in the medical community as “text neck.” This is the term for the neck pain associated with looking down at a cell phone for too long or too often. Individuals with an addiction to cellular phones also suffer from digital eyestrain. This is often accompanied by burning and itching of the eyes and blurred vision associated with looking at a small screen for at least two hours at a time. Finally, research shows that there is a significant increase in car accidents related to teen cell phone use. Several studies have shown that texting and driving can be equally as dangerous as drunk driving, both of which result in a large number of fatalities each year.

Teen Cell Phone Addiction Treatment

In many cases, cellular phone use can be beneficial for teens. They use their phones to connect with peers, obtain assistance with school assignments, and even use calendars and apps to help stay organized and on track with academic requirements. Before considering treatment, there are a few things you can do at home to help reduce cell phone usage and determine the extent to which your teen may be struggling with cellular phone addiction.

Educate Your Teen

Communicate openly about the benefits and potential adverse pitfalls of screen time. Avoid lecturing as that frequently leads to ineffective conversations. Take the time to ask your teens for their thoughts and opinions.

Make a Plan

Talk to your teen about setting healthy limits and boundaries for screen time. For example, perhaps you may set a limit regarding cell phone use at the dinner table. Also, make sure you have a system of checks and balances in place for helping everyone stick to the rules.

Create a Device “check-in” Policy

Phones, tablets, and other devices should be removed from the bedroom at night to help curb sleep disturbances. Create a plan with your teen to “check” devices at a specific time before bed to ensure they aren’t on the bedside table as a distraction.

Establish Screen-free Zones

Meals and family outings are good examples of times when frequent cellular phone use and phone checking negatively affect the goals of the moment. Set firm boundaries for screen use during these times and setting and be sure to adhere to them.

Model Healthy Boundaries

When parents are glued to their phones, teens are bound to learn that it is appropriate behavior. If you set rules for family members, it is essential for you as a parent to adhere to the boundaries as well.

Cell Phone Addiction - Late Night - Hillcrest

If the above measures do not work, and you suspect your teen is “addicted” or their cell phone use is adversely affecting their daily functioning, it is time to seek help. Although cell phone addiction is a relatively new behavioral addiction that isn’t formally listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, several rehabilitation centers specialize in treating this disorder. At an inpatient residential treatment facility like Hillcrest, your teen can participate in various treatment programs, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and individual process therapies. While there is little research regarding cell phone addiction treatment specifically, there are decades of study proving evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly successful when used to treat behavior-based addictions. Given the similarities between other addictive behaviors and cellular phone addiction, a treatment program based on similar treatment models could help your teen identify the adverse behaviors feeding their addiction.

If you are concerned about your teen’s cellular phone use and would like to know more about the treatment programs we offer at Hillcrest, call us today to speak to an admissions counselor.

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